Informal Conflict Management System Evaluation

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3. MAJOR FINDINGS

This chapter reviews the findings of the evaluation of the ICMS in terms of relevance, awareness and use of ICMS services, achievement of expected outcomes, partnering, and efficiency and economy.

3.1. Relevance

The results of the evaluation demonstrate that workplace conflict exists in the Department. The need for the program is acknowledged by project partners and employees. Addressing such conflict is clearly in public interest. The program represents a legitimate and necessary role for the federal government given the potential negative impact workplace conflict can have on the efficient workings of federal government operations. The program is consistent with the departmental strategic outcomes as well as federal government commitments to resolve disputes in the workplace fairly, credibly and efficiently. More specifically, the findings of the evaluation regarding this issue are as follows:

As with many organizations, workplace conflict exists within the Department.

The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) was designed to gauge employee opinion on a range of issues reflective of the health of the public service. Results from the 2008 PSES survey indicate that departmental employees may experience a range of workplace conflicts. For example, 26% of respondents reported being the victim of harassment while 16% reported being the victim of discrimination on the job within the past two years. The results are similar to those reported for the Public Service overall as well as those reported in the employee survey conducted as part of the ICMS evaluation, in which 23% of respondents reported being the victim of harassment while 12% reported being the victim of discrimination on the job within the past two years.

Figure 2: Victim of Harassment or Discrimination in PSES, Justice and ICMS Surveys

Victim of Harassment or Discrimination in PSES, Justice and ICMS Surveys

[Description]

There are other types of conflict in addition to harassment and discrimination. In the ICMS survey, nearly two-thirds of the respondents (65%) reported encountering some type of conflict in the workplace. The types of conflict most commonly reported were interpersonal conflict or conflict amongst co-workers (44%), followed by conflict involving management practices (29%) and harassment (23%).

Figure 3: ICMS Survey: Nature of Conflict

ICMS Survey: Nature of Conflict

[Description]

It is in the public interest for government to implement strategies that will reduce the impact of conflict and the costs of formal conflict resolution.

Conflict in the workplace can have negative repercussions both on an organization and its people. Research has demonstrated that between 60% and 80% of all difficulties in organizations stem from relationships between employees, rather than deficits in individual employee’s skill or motivation.[4] The resolution of the difficulties that arise from employee relationships demands significant time and resources.

A successful ICMS is in the public interest to the extent that it reduces the direct costs associated with conflict and formal conflict resolution as well as the indirect costs of conflict in terms of its impact on the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness. Examples of the direct costs of conflict include:

  • Salary costs, payable to an employee granted paid leave while in conflict (e.g. sick leave) or payable to an employee upon termination of employment;

  • Benefit costs allowable to employees on leave, including medical and dental plan eligibility, sick leave, disability insurance, and death benefits and life insurance;

  • Transaction costs which may include travel and accommodation costs payable to employees engaged in a job search, career counselling, employee legal fees and/or relocation costs;

  • Replacement costs for all employees who leave an organization as a result of conflict. According to one estimate[5], replacement costs equal 150% of an employee’s total compensation based on “lost productivity, recruiting fees, interviewing time, staffing, department salaries, orientation and retraining costs”[6]; and

  • Legal costs where power-based solutions have resulted in a contested departure.

In addition to these direct costs, there are significant intangible or indirect costs that are often overlooked by organizations but which have a direct impact on its “bottom line”. Such factors include:

  • Time wasted in conflict. For example, it has been reported that a typical manager spends between 25% and 40% of his or her time dealing with workplace conflict, which is equivalent to one to two business days of every work week.[7]

  • Quality impacts. The quality of decisions made by people who are engaged in a conflict may suffer, due to communication barriers and sub-optimal decision making.
    Organizational design and organizational change costs. To address systemic conflict, organizations may need to be restructured.

  • Productivity erosion. Conflict impacts the morale not only of the people involved in the conflict but of other employees as well. This hidden cost can impact the overall “bottom line” of an organization.

  • Absenteeism. Valid or false claims of illness where underlying conflict within the organization is the real reason for an absence.

  • Malfeasance/Nonfeasance. In response to conflict, employees may fail to diligently discharge their duties or maliciously damage the property or vital interests of an organization.[8]

A conflict management program such as ICMS, which provides an informal process of addressing conflicts and structure that integrates an effective conflict management into an organization’s every day functions, can significantly improve the operations of that organization. The public, therefore, benefits from strategies that will increase the time and resources available to the Department to be used in developing law policy that helps ensure a fair, efficient and accessible justice system for all Canadians.

The need for ICMS services is widely recognized across the program partners and employees who participated in the evaluation.

Almost all key informants (program partners) and survey respondents stated that there is at least somewhat of a need for the ICMS. The average rating given regarding the need ranged from 4.0 amongst respondents to 4.3 amongst key informants, on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is no need at all and 5 is a significant need. All key informants thought there was a need for the program, along with 94% of respondents.

Figure 4: Need for ICMS Program

Need for ICMS Program

[Description]

Certain sub-segments of the respondent population tend to perceive a greater need for the ICMS than do others. For example, respondents who received conflict management assistance from ICMS and Aboriginal peoples are more likely to perceive high need for the program, providing average ratings of 4.5 and 4.8 respectively. A summary of the employee survey, cross-tabulated by characteristics of the respondents, is provided in Appendix C.

The need for the program was attributed by respondents to the:

  • need for a confidential and neutral place to resolve conflicts;
  • need for training opportunities designed to increase knowledge of informal ways of managing conflict. In particular, there is a sense that managers are not trained to deal appropriately with sensitive issues and to take preventative measures to address conflict situations before the need to involve third party occurs; and
  • need to equip employees with better tools to improve their skills and abilities in conflict resolution.

Key informants noted there is a need to increase awareness, among managers and employees, of the roles and responsibilities of all individuals in creating a respectful work environment. In addition, they noted the need for a neutral, confidential and impartial space to enhance individuals and organizational capacity to deal with conflict in more positive, supportive and productive ways. In general, both respondents and key informants stated that learning about alternative ways to address conflict in a workplace will lead to improved workplace environment and productivity as well as quality of work life.

Respondents who did not see much need for the ICMS tended to be less familiar with the services available, did not personally see the need to use it, doubted about the changes that ICMS services could bring, or suggested that more traditional resources available to help employees deal with work conflict already meet the need.

The objectives of the ICMS are consistent with departmental strategic outcomes and federal priorities.

The objectives of the ICMS are aligned with departmental policies to create a workplace culture in which all staff, in all roles and at all levels, have the commitment, the skills and the resources to work collaboratively to seek early resolution of conflicts in a constructive and creative manner. This includes addressing systemic causes as well as individual instances of workplace conflict. The ICMS is a system that supports a culture of effective conflict management that emphasizes honest discussion and collaborative problem solving between people who are involved in conflicts. The System aims to achieve such workplace culture by:

  • fostering a commitment to labour/management collaboration;
  • establishing an environment in the workplace in which effective communication and collaborative problem solving is valued and rewarded;
  • ensuring that the appropriate learning opportunities are available so that all employees have the necessary understanding and skills;
  • coordinating a network of multiple access points and services so that the most effective support is available to provide the most appropriate assistance at the right time; and
  • exploring and addressing systemic causes of conflict by welcoming good faith dissent and constructive criticism.

In addition to providing managers and employees with various options to deal with conflict issues (coaching, mediation, facilitation, etc.), ICMS offers training to develop conflict resolution skills and to build a common understanding for working through a wide array of conflict situations.

The primary mandate of the ICMS in the Department is also aligned with the federal government’s commitment to resolve matters in the workplace fairly, credibly and efficiently. The mandate of the ICMS for the Department is derived from section 207 of the PSLRA which directs that “every deputy head in the core public administration must…in consultation with bargaining agents…establish an informal conflict management system”. This section of the legislation therefore introduced into the federal public service a new conflict management system intended to support the federal government’s commitment to “fair, credible and efficient resolution of matters arising in the workplace”. A review of literature demonstrates that the ICMS objectives and processes described above are aligned with various departmental and federal strategic outcomes and priorities. For example, it is consistent with:

  • The values of the Department of Justice which state that “the Department’s strength comes from all members of the organization, who are committed to working together on the basis on mutual trust, support and respect”.
  • The Public Service Modernization Act, which states that “the labour-management relationship in the public service will benefit significantly from more dialogue, and less confrontation, between the parties”. The various measures are meant to “improve labour-management consultation at the departmental level and enable co-development of workplace improvements”. This goal is reflected in the PSLRA, which aims to provide “better dialogue, joint problem solving, mutually agreed upon solutions and more effective collective bargaining”.
  • Dispute Prevention and Resolution Services which exist to “serve as a leading centre of dispute prevention and resolution (DPR) excellence within the Government of Canada and beyond”. Their role is “to promote a greater understanding of DPR and assist in the integration of DPR into the policies, operations and practices of departments and agencies of the Government of Canada, Crown corporations, federal tribunals and administrative agencies, as well as federally constituted courts”.
  • The Department of Justice Human Resource Management Plan seeks “the conditions and infrastructure for a workplace that are fair, enabling, healthy and safe and a workplace that is productive, principled, sustainable and adaptable.”
  • The Treasury Board’s 2001 Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the Workplace mandates the provision of mediation in all cases of harassment. This policy “promotes the prevention of harassment and focuses on the prompt resolution of harassment” thereby fostering a respectful workplace.

3.2. Awareness of Informal Conflict Management System Services

The results of the evaluation indicate that, while some progress has been made particularly amongst managers, various factors have served to constrain overall awareness of the ICMS services. The findings of the evaluation regarding awareness of ICMS services are as follows:

Although some progress had been made, overall familiarity with the ICMS services and activities within the Department remains relatively low.

Almost one-half of the respondents to the survey were at least somewhat familiar with the program. However, only 10% of respondents rated themselves as very familiar with the program while over half were not familiar at all (40%) or not very familiar (13%) with the type of services that ICMS provides, how these services can assist them in resolving existing or future conflicts, or what is the role and application of the services. The average rating on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is not at all familiar and 5 is very familiar, was 2.4 which is very low given the self-selected nature of the sample.

Figure 5: Familiarity with ICMS Program

Familiarity with ICMS Program

[Description]

As expected, employees who reported they had attended awareness sessions and used the conflict management services provided by ICMS were more likely to be familiar with the program’s activities and services, providing an average rating of 3.9.

The respondents were most likely to become aware of the ICMS through promotional materials.

Of those who were familiar with the program, 29% recalled first learning of the ICMS through promotional materials, including program materials, brochure or Website. Other commonly identified sources of awareness included referrals from managers, Human Resources (HR) representatives, a co-worker, the union, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or an ICMS representative.

Figure 6: Awareness of ICMS Program

Awareness of ICMS Program

[Description]

Awareness of the program remains low.

When asked to rate the success of the program in increasing awareness of its services on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all, 3 is somewhat and 5 is very successful, the average rating among key informants was 2.8. The existing level of awareness was attributed to various activities, including awareness sessions, ICMS services periodically being mentioned in bulletins sent out to employees (although it was noted that many employees do not read those bulletins), and an ICMS Website which provides extensive information.

The ICMS has been somewhat more effective in creating awareness amongst managers than amongst other employees.

Key informants thought that managers were more likely to have been made aware of the ICMS but it was not clear to them that this information had trickled down to employees. The employee survey confirms that awareness is significantly higher amongst managers. The average familiarity rating was higher amongst respondents working in management (3.1) than amongst other respondents (2.2).

The low level of awareness can be attributed to a variety of factors:

  • the confusion resulting from the name change which occurred with the creation of the OICMW;
  • the decentralized nature of the Department which makes communication/awareness building difficult in general. It was suggested that it is much easier to create awareness of program within the NCR than in the regions. However, the results of the employee survey showed that awareness within Headquarters (HQ) is the same as that in the regions (average rating of 2.4);
  • the relatively small size of the program (e.g. three staff members) and limited resources allocated to creating awareness;
  • the absence of sustained efforts to create awareness. For example, there have been few training sessions staged since 2006 and no regional awareness sessions have been staged since 2006; and,
  • the failure of partners to actively promote the program. The partners who were interviewed reported making very few referrals to the program. Several of the key informants who are in a position to refer employees and/or are involved in employee conflict processes specifically mentioned that they were never or very rarely asked about ICMS by employees.

3.3. Sources of Assistance in Dealing with Conflict

The results of the evaluation indicate that employees use a variety of mechanisms, with varying success, to deal with conflict in the workplace, as discussed below:

The majority of respondents who reported that they face conflict in the workplace usually attempt to deal with that conflict.

The results of the employee survey indicate that 65% of the respondents encountered some type of conflict in the workplace. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of the respondents (90% of whom had experienced conflict) attempted to deal with it. Those who did not attempt to deal with the conflict tended to feel that there is not a safe, neutral and confidential environment in the workplace to deal with these kinds of issues. Some feared reprisal from management/colleagues, expressed lack of faith in the system, or simply felt that it was “not worth it” to deal with a situation of conflict.

Respondents are more likely to turn to informal sources for assistance to deal with conflicts in the workplace.

In part because of the low awareness, key informants reported that employees are still much more likely to use more formal approaches and channels to resolve conflict than to take advantage of the services provided by the ICMS. In the survey, respondents most commonly reported receiving assistance from friends (29%) and managers (23%). In addition to the ICMS, more formal sources used by employees in dealing with conflict include HR Labour Relations, the union and the EAP.

Figure 7: Sources of Assistance

Sources of Assistance

[Description]

A wide range of ‘other’ sources were identified, including co-workers and colleagues, senior management (above the manager to whom they report), independent advisors, psychiatrist/mental health physician, external training/courses on interpersonal conflict management, and mentors.

When asked to rate the usefulness of the assistance received from the various sources in helping them resolve or manage conflict on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all useful, 3 is somewhat useful, and 5 is very useful, the average rating was 3.4. When asked about the usefulness of the assistance they received, respondents highlighted:

  • the emotional and other support gained by discussing the problem with a colleague, mentor, friend or other person;
  • the importance of one-on-one structured advice and being able to discuss and obtain third party opinions regarding possible solutions to the conflict;
  • the formal step-by-step process for dealing with the conflict and taking it forward to a specific authority (e.g. Director, HR, union, Human Rights Commission) that could take concrete action or create a strategy to resolve the conflict;
  • the mediated discussions and communication with the mediator or someone who is trained in conflict management, helped to ascertain underlying issues or conflicting interests.

3.4. Use of and Satisfaction with Informal Conflict Management System Activities

The results of the evaluation demonstrate that moderate progress has been made in enhancing accessibility and usage of conflict management services, which is reflected in the comparatively small numbers of clients served and the limited role of the program in providing referrals to other resources. Those who have accessed conflict management services training and awareness sessions are generally satisfied with them. More specifically, the major findings of the evaluation regarding use of ICMS services are as follows:

Approximately one-quarter of employees surveyed participate in ICMS activities.

As indicated below, 13% of the respondents reported receiving conflict management services while 13% reported participating in awareness sessions and 6% reported participating in training sessions.

Figure 8: Respondents who used ICMS Services

Respondents who used ICMS Services

[Description]

Conflict management services may encompass a wide range of activities such as discussion, coaching, negotiation, mediation, facilitation, group intervention, workplace assessment, advisory services and referrals. As was shown in Chapter 2, ICMS data indicates that 88 clients received conflict management services in 2007-08, 41 people were assisted in 2008-09, and 49 were assisted in 2009-10. However, it was noted that these figures understate the level of program activity in that not all visits and other interactions are recorded. Thirty-seven of the 276 employees surveyed (13%) reported they had received some form of conflict management services through the ICMS[9].

The survey also collected data on the types of conflict management services received by the employees. The most commonly used ICMS services were discussions (reported by 8% of all respondents) and referrals to other resources (3%).

Figure 9: ICMS Services

ICMS Services

[Description]

The awareness sessions, which commonly are one to two hours in length, focus on informing participants about the program and its services. The ICMS reports are providing an average of five to seven information sessions per month. These sessions are not necessarily focused strictly on the ICMS but may encompass other aspects of the OICMW. The number of participants is commonly 15 to 20 but can range up to 75 and, in a few instances, to over 200. Most sessions have been held at HQ. There have been no regional sessions staged since 2006. Thirty-six (13%) of the employees surveyed reported they had participated in awareness sessions focused on the ICMS.

This training focuses on building competencies, skills and abilities. However, comparatively little emphasis has been placed on training activities since 2006 as the program estimates that only five training sessions have been staged with groups of 15 to 20 people (75 to 100 people trained in total). Seventeen (6%) of the employees surveyed reported that they had participated in training sessions related to the ICMS.

The characteristics of the employees who reported participating in each of the various types of activities are summarized in Appendix D. Employees who used conflict management services were more likely to work in HQ (78%), about half work in management positions, and 81% are female. Fourteen percent are Aboriginal peoples, 8% are visible minorities, and 8% are persons with disabilities. Employees who participated in ICMS awareness sessions are likely to work in HQ (69%), in non-managerial positions (56%) and to be female (72%). Six percent are Aboriginal peoples and 8% are persons with disabilities. Employees who participated in training sessions tend to work in HQ (59%), are slightly less likely to work in management positions (59%), and more likely to be female (77%). About 12% are Aboriginal peoples and 6% are visible minorities, while another 6% are persons with disabilities.

The program plays a very limited role in directly referring clients to other conflict management services.

There are other resources available to departmental employees that provide services related to conflict management. These represent alternatives for employees as well as potential referral targets for the ICMS. More specifically, the ICMS may refer clients to:

  • the EAP, if their issue is of a financial, personal, medical or psychological nature;
  • the respective union, if the employee is looking for support to formulate a complaint or submit a grievance; or
  • HR labour relations, if the manager is considering imposing disciplinary measures.

In some offices, workplace well-being programs, such as stress management courses, are available. The ICMS can also refer clients to outside resources in the event a conflict situation arises that is beyond the resolution capacity of the Department’s ICMS.

While this opportunity exits, the evaluation has found that the number of referrals provided is low. In the survey, only 3% of the respondents (8 people) reported being referred to other sources.

Employees who used the ICMS conflict management services tended to be somewhat satisfied with those services.

When asked to rate their satisfaction with ICMS services that they have received so far on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all satisfied, 3 is somewhat satisfied, and 5 is very satisfied, the average rating was 3.0. Those who were satisfied said that:

  • the one-on-one sessions provided guidance and the possible solutions for a specific conflict they were facing;
  • the information they received was clear, informative and comprehensive;
  • the ICMS provided a neutral space for employees to discuss the conflict situation with an experienced advisor;
  • the group discussions provided an opportunity to talk with other colleagues, learn about their experiences, build confidence and receive emotional support as well as help to deal with the sense of isolation; and
  • the services instilled confidence that conflict can be solved without formal process and with little consequences, helped to reduce their feeling of isolation and helplessness, and provided assistance to resolve conflict in a respectful manner.

The respondents who were less satisfied identified a range of reasons such as:

  • there was no resolution to the issue;
  • they perceived the environment as accusatory (one respondent mentioned the fear of repercussions and negative effects on those who bring up the issues);
  • the integrity of those seeking advice was questioned;
  • there was limited expertise available to address more complex conflict issues;
  • their telephone calls or e-mails were not returned; and
  • they described the program as not being visible or accessible enough, particularly in the regions.

It should be noted that ICMS conflict management services are often used in concert with other sources of assistance. Respondents who used conflict management services indicated that they have also obtained help from their friends (51%), HR (48%) and their managers (35%). Some have also approached the union and the EAP (28% and 24% respectively).

The ICMS training sessions and awareness sessions were generally well received, particularly in terms of enabling employees to develop the skills needed to resolve workplace conflicts on their own without having to engage in more formal systems.

Of 276 employees who were surveyed, 36 reported that they participated in a one- or two-hour information sessions and 17 reported participating in a one- or two-day training sessions. Eight employees participated in both. When asked to rate their satisfaction with the sessions, employees who participated in the training sessions provided an average rating of 3.4 while those who participated in the information sessions provided an average rating of 3.3.

Figure 10: Satisfaction with ICMS Training Sessions

Satisfaction with ICMS Training Sessions

[Description]

Respondents reported that the training helped them develop the skills needed to resolve workplace conflicts on their own without having to engage in more formal systems. When asked to identify the most useful aspects of the training, the participants most commonly identified the examples and demonstrations of possible conflict situations and the strategies to deal with them. Other information considered particularly useful was training on interpersonal relationships and emotion management. In particular, understanding how interpersonal skills help deal with conflict, understanding the effect culture has on conflict, and respecting how an individual thinks, feels and sees things differently in a situation were identified by the respondents. Role-playing was also considered helpful in understanding other perspectives.

The respondents who were less satisfied noted that more practical exercises were needed along with theoretical training, more information should have been provided on the variety of possible workplace conflict scenarios, and the session failed to help employees recognize their own accountability in a conflict situation.

With respect to the awareness sessions, respondents indicated that the information received was particularly useful in educating them about the existence of the ICMS, its roles and responsibilities, other resources that may be available, and how to contact them. The awareness sessions do provide some information about ICMS conflict management services and the importance of a respectful and healthy work environment. However, as would be expected, little impact was reported in terms of supporting employees in managing or resolving particular conflicts.

3.5. Impacts of Informal Conflict Management System Activities

The results of the evaluation demonstrate that the conflict management services and the training are the program components which have the greatest impact in terms of enhancing knowledge and awareness of alternative ways to manage conflict which, in turn, better prepare employees to manage conflict in the workplace and can be applied to support them in managing or resolving particular conflicts. However, the small numbers of people served directly or trained constrains the overall impact. Although some progress has been made, it is unreasonable to have expected that a significant shift towards a collaborative workplace culture would have occurred given the size of the Department and the comparatively small size and scope of the program. More specifically, the major findings of the evaluation regarding the impacts of ICMS activities are as follows:

Assessment of the impact of ICMS activities by respondents

The respondents who had participated in ICMS activities were asked to rate the impact in terms of educating them regarding where to go for assistance, increasing their general awareness and knowledge of conflict management, better preparing them to manage conflict in the workplace, and supporting them in managing or resolving particular conflicts on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is no impact at all and 5 is major impact. The results were then analyzed to determine the average ratings provided by those who had participated in training sessions, conflict management services and awareness sessions and are presented in the chart below:

Figure 11: Impact of ICMS Information

Impact of ICMS Information

[Description]

The results highlight the relationship between particular activities and impacts. In comparison to the other types of activities, information sessions tend to have the greatest impact in terms of educating participants regarding where to go for assistance. Training sessions tend have the greatest impact in increasing their general awareness and knowledge of conflict management. Both training sessions and conflict management services better prepare them to manage conflict in the workplace. Of the three types of activities, conflict management services tend to have the greatest impact in terms of supporting employees in managing or resolving particular conflicts.

Of the 276 respondents who participated in the survey, four indicated a major impact (a rating of 5) in terms of increasing their general knowledge of conflict management; one indicated a major impact in terms of preparing them to manage conflict in the workplace; and two indicated a major impact in terms of supporting them in managing or resolving particular conflicts.

The ratings provided by the key informants were similar, viewing the ICMS as somewhat successful in enhancing awareness of alternative ways of managing conflict (average rating of 2.9 on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is not at all, 3 is somewhat and 5 is very successful). They noted that activities such as awareness sessions, information bulletins and “lunch and learn” events have had a positive impact to encourage employees to consider alternative strategies for conflict resolution or to use ICMS services to learn about alternative ways in managing conflict.

However, while training has the potential to have a significant impact in terms of knowledge transfer which can support employees in managing and resolving conflict, the overall impact is limited by the small number of training sessions held. Similarly, although conflict management services can prepare employees to manage conflict in the workplace and support them in managing or resolving particular conflicts, only a small percentage of those employees experiencing conflict have utilized those services.

Assessment of the impact of ICMS services by partners.

Many of the partners see a strong need for the program (average rating of 4.3). However, as indicated by the ratings summarized in the chart below, many of them also state that the ICMS has made moderate progress towards achieving its objectives and intended outcomes. Several of those interviewed specifically identified that this is one of the main reasons why they have not taken a more active role with respect to promoting the program in their offices.

Figure 12: Success of ICMS Program

Success of ICMS Program

[Description]

Assessment of the impact of ICMS services by key informants

When asked what they saw as the major objectives of the program, the key informants tended to focus on specific roles and activities. More specifically, they identified:

  • Acting as a resource for managing conflict; a place that individuals could go to receive information on resources, tools and advice;
  • Providing an alternative to the more formal grievance system, and acting as a service to prevent conflict from escalating;
  • Acting as an informal, collaborative, and neutral third party to help in the resolution of conflict;
  • Providing services to help manage and resolve conflicts quickly and in the lower levels of the organization; and
  • Providing training to develop conflict resolution abilities of employees and managers.

Key informants rated the ICMS as somewhat successful in reaching these objectives (average rating of 3.0). They pointed to the relatively small size (few staff) and limited resources associated with the program, with some indicating that they had hoped it would have a higher profile and be able to provide more hands-on services and training than have been delivered.

While they have not been particularly active in promoting the program, the key informants still identified some potential advantages of the ICMS relative to other alternatives. These included:

  • Neutrality. One perceived advantage of the ICMS is that it is impartial, so it does not have the same vested interests that other parties may have.
  • Escalation prevention. When people are open to discussion and are willing to compromise, then ICMS is preferable to the formal grievance process because it can prevent situations from escalating. The ICMS mechanism may result in less antagonism among the parties involved, and greater satisfaction with the end result.
  • Personal growth. It was reported by program partners that the ICMS process could also represent the opportunity for personal growth among the parties involved in conflict because they can experience and consider alternative conflict management strategies.
  • Delivery Advantages. Some other advantages of the ICMS are that it may be less expensive than other means of conflict resolution, there is easy access (in Ottawa), and it is less lengthy than the formal grievance process.

Some progress has been made towards the ultimate outcome (five-year) of shifting towards a collaborative workplace culture that is more open and effective in resolving conflict.

When asked to rate progress made in shifting the culture (on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is not at all successful and 5 is very successful), key informants provided an average rating of 2.8. The results of the employee survey confirm that some progress has been made. For example, as previously discussed, almost one in four (24%) employees participated in ICMS activities and most reported at least some change in terms of increasing their awareness and knowledge with respect to conflict management.

However, it is unreasonable to have expected that a significant shift would have occurred because of the level of resources allocated to the program. The ICMS has a budget of $324,296 and overall the OICMW has six full-time employees spread across its six functions including ICMS, Values and Ethics Code, Disclosure, Workplace Wellbeing, Political Activity, and Harassment. Before ICMS became incorporated into the OICMW, the program had two full-time employees with a senior officer who worked less than half the time for the program. In the new OICMW, none of the staff is dedicated to ICMS activities, but if we estimate that two of the six full-time staff work on it, these individuals in effect serve 4,849 Justice employees spread across Canada. Estimates provided by ICMS management suggest that actually four employees have roles related to ICMS: the Director (30% of time devoted to ICMS activities), two senior officers (each with 25% of their time), and a coordinator (30% of time on ICMS) which adds up to an equivalent of 1.1 full-time positions.

Of the seven ICMS programs reviewed as part of this evaluation (see table below), none has fewer staff members associated with their ICMS and none (even those with large ICMS Offices) serves a larger number of employees per staff member. The number of employees per ICMS staff at Justice Canada (2,425) is significantly higher than in other departments with similar employee levels, including Citizenship and Immigration Canada (918) and Statistics Canada (904). The Department’s program is also the newest among those reviewed.

Table 5: Characteristics of Other ICMS Programs
Department Number of Department Employees Number of ICMS Staff Employees/ICMS Staff
Veterans Affairs 3,992 3 1,330
Justice 4,849 2 2,425
Citizenship and Immigration Canada 4,590 5 918
Statistics Canada 5,426 6 904
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 6,388 11 581
HRSDC 25,277 15 1,685
Canada Revenue Agency 40,316 23 1,753


The larger ICMS Offices not only benefit from more staff overall but also from access to more specialized resources. For example, an important difference between the Department’s ICMS and that of other departments is with respect to the availability of conflict resolution practitioners, including conflict resolution practitioners, conflict resolution officers, and mediators on site. As an illustration, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which is similar in size to the Department, has three practitioners. The Department of Justice has no conflict resolution practitioners.

The realization of a more collaborative workplace culture that is more open and effective in resolving conflict would require significant enhancements to the program.

Key informants stated that some further progress will be made by ICMS in facilitating the shift toward collaborative workplace culture (providing an average rating of 3.2, on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is no further progress, 3 is some progress and 5 is major progress). However, in order to achieve greater impact in changing the culture of the workplace and how employees deal with the conflict, enhancements to the program would need to be made. In particular, more funding is needed to increase capacity and extend the services delivered. Further discussion of key success factors and opportunities for improvement is included in the section on opportunities for improvement.

3.6. Relationship with Partners

The program design was built on the expectation that representatives from management, HR, unions, and regional offices as well as others with expertise in conflict management would play an important role in sustaining the progress of the ICMS through activities such as promoting the program to others and referring people to ICMS services. The results of the evaluation indicate that although ICMS partners who were interviewed tend to be very familiar with the ICMS themselves, they have not been very active in promoting the program in their units or with other departmental employees with whom they work.

Key informants tend to be familiar with the ICMS as a result of their involvement in the JAG.

On average, the key informants rated their familiarity with the ICMS at 4.6 on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is not at all familiar and 5 is very familiar. Five of the 10 ICMS partners who were interviewed had been involved in the JAG where they played an important advisory role to the Senior ICMS Officer and the National Coordinator with respect to major decisions concerning the operation and improvement of the ICMS. While they still tended to rate their familiarity with the ICMS as high, it should be noted that most of these representatives have not been very active with respect to the program since the JAG was disbanded.

The ICMS has not developed a strong working relationship with partners.

Despite their personal familiarity with the program, most ICMS partners felt that the program has not developed strong relationships with key partners. When asked to rate the success of the ICMS in developing those relationships on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all successful, 3 is somewhat successful and 5 is very successful, the average rating was 2.9. Most felt that the ICMS had placed a low priority on cultivating relationships with potential referral sources. The key informants recommended that the ICMS take a more active role in strengthening relationships with partners and promoting the program more widely.

Even those who are very familiar with the program generally felt that their own involvement in the ICMS was very limited.

Although most of the ICMS partners had interacted with OICMW staff, promoted the programs to others and/or referred people to the ICMS services (as indicated in the chart below), they also noted that the level of interaction and their role in promoting the program were very minor. For example, rather than regular, consistent involvement, they indicated that they had interacted with the staff once or twice or had referred one or two people to the program.

Figure 13: Partners’ Involvement with ICMS

Partners’ Involvement with ICMS

[Description]

Fewer partners reported participating in training sessions. Even amongst those who are likely most familiar with the program, the involvement of the partners can be characterized as sporadic at best. These partners do not play an active role in promoting the program to others in their unit or in undertaking any other activities in support of the ICMS.

3.7. Efficiency and Economy

By its nature, an ICMS tends to be a cost-effective strategy. The only significant concerns expressed with respect to its cost effectiveness are that not enough resources are allocated for certain activities. More specifically, the major findings with respect to efficiency and economy are as follows:

To the extent that it contributes to significant time and costs savings associated with conflict, an ICMS program can be a very cost-effective strategy for an organization.

Conflict in the workplace costs organizations billions of dollars every year. According to one study,[10] employees in the United States spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, which equates to approximately $359 billion in paid hours in 2008[11]. Similarly, the average employee in the United Kingdom also spends over two hours per week dealing with conflict, which indicates that 370 million working days were lost in that year, at a cost to British employers of more than £24 billion[12]. It has been suggested that “unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized”.[13]

Analysis of the literature indicated that the use of alternate dispute resolution mechanisms can result in savings with respect to time and costs. According to studies of the United States government, cost savings of $3,500 to $10,000 can be realized, on average, for cases that are mediated as compared to those that rely on a formal grievance process.[14] Organizations that have developed “collaborative conflict management systems report significant litigation cost savings: Brown and Root reported an 80% reduction in outside litigation costs. Motorola reported a 75% reduction over a period of six years. NCR reported a 50% reduction and a drop of pending lawsuits from 263 in 1984 to 28 in 1993.”[15] Also, alternate dispute resolutions processes are between 10 and 15 times faster than traditional mediation processes.[16]

Informal conflict management services are more cost-effective relative to formal conflict management mechanisms. For example, a report summarizing the findings of an evaluation of the Canadian Transportation Agency Mediation Pilot Project for the years 2000-2003 demonstrated that the average cost of mediation for the organization was $7,041 [17]. This cost is relatively low when compared to adjudication costs, which can range from $16,360 for the majority of adjudications without a public hearing to $45,720 for an above average adjudication without a public hearing.

An evaluation of the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program [18] provided compelling evidence that mandatory mediations led to significant reductions in the time taken to dispose of cases and in costs to litigants. Mandatory mediations also resulted in about 40% of cases being settled earlier in the litigation process.

The relatively low budget allocated to the ICMS has had an impact on the cost effectiveness of the program.

The Department’s ICMS is a low-budget program relative to that of other federal government departments included in the study. Factors that contribute to the cost effectiveness of the ICMS include:

  • The re-structuring of ICMS into the OICMW resulted in some economies of scale with respect to sharing of resources, overheads and messaging. It has also enhanced communication between the various functions.
  • The program is considered well structured given its objectives (55% of key informants agreed that it is well restructured while only 9% did not). There is general agreement that the three pillars underlying the ICMS are appropriate and consistent with its objectives. The three pillars are services (being able to answer the needs every time there is a conflict); commitment (ensuring there are enough resources to promote ICMS and provide training/outreach); and priorities (ensuring that the system meets the priorities of the Department and government).
  • The ICMS complements rather than duplicates other conflict resolution mechanisms. It provides an alternate process that can be more impartial, less rigid, more timely and oriented toward conversation and compromise. The ICMS can also help the other programs by raising awareness about different ways of approaching workplace conflict.

The major concerns expressed by key informants with respect to cost effectiveness relate more to the size of the overall budget rather than to how the existing budget is utilized. As mentioned previously, the OICMW has six employees spread across six functions including ICMS. One person is not solely dedicated to the work of the ICMS, and overall it is estimated that the equivalent of two full-time employees work on the program. This includes a Director who works part-time on the program; none of these employees is a conflict resolution practitioner. Furthermore, there is a common view that insufficient resources are available for training, promotion of the program, and outreach activities to the regions. In addition, it was suggested that more resources need to be invested in developing relationships with key partners from management, labour relations and the bargaining units. By increasing the budget, the program would be better placed to meet its objectives, thereby increasing its overall cost effectiveness.

3.8. Opportunities for Improvement

Based on feedback provided by key informants, employees and representatives of similar programs as well as on a review of best practices, nine key factors were identified that have an impact on the success of an ICMS program. The importance of each factor is highlighted below:

Demonstrable support from senior management

Support from senior management can set the tone for the degree to which an ICMS service is welcomed by a department. If there is a clear and consistent demonstration from senior management that informal conflict management is a priority, it will increase the likelihood that key parties in the Department will be open to collaboration. The importance of this factor was confirmed by representatives of other government ICMS who identified departmental and senior management support as key in a successful ICMS. In the Department, several key informants stated that the success of the ICMS was constrained because it lacked adequate support at senior levels.

Improved visibility and awareness of the program

Without a clear understanding of what is involved in ICMS services, there will be limited uptake. Overall awareness of the ICMS in the Department is not very high.Among the employees surveyed for the evaluation, 41% were not at all familiar with the ICMS while 10% of respondents were very familiar. The emphasis on creating awareness of the program appears to have declined over time. In addition, some confusion has resulted with the name change that occurred with the creation of the OICMW. This lack of awareness is amplified outside the NCR. Since 2007, no awareness sessions have been held in the regions. As a result, there was a trend among key informants from the regions to be less positive overall in their views of the ICMS program and its success. Furthermore, some representatives from the NCR voiced concerns about whether regions were as well connected to the ICMS process.

A clearly defined role for the ICMS

Particularly when there are multiple conflict resolution options in a workplace, the role, responsibilities and the range of services available through an ICMS need to be very well defined; people need to understand its advantages, and the nature of the services they will receive if they choose that approach. Furthermore, when stakeholders understand the role of the ICMS and its advantages, they are more likely to support it informally through referral and participation in its activities. Although most key informants are able to define the objectives of the ICMS, they questioned the program’s priorities as well as the role of key informants in the program. Similarly, respondents echoed this concern as they had difficulty in understanding ICMS services, the benefits of these services and their difference from other conflict management options.

Strong relationships with others involved in conflict resolution

The support of other conflict resolution groups is important for program success. Inevitably, the activities of the ICMS will interact with those of the union or labour relations; if ICMS is supported by these groups, it can promote a more open and collaborative orientation to resolving conflict situations when they arise. Despite their own familiarity with the program, most program partners reported that the program has not been very successful in developing relationships with them. Even those who are very familiar with the program generally described their own involvement as being very limited.

Perceived neutrality among employees

Employees must be assured that the services provided through the ICMS are neutral and confidential. Sometimes employees may perceive that unions or labour relations have a vested interest in particular outcomes in a conflict situation. Since the ICMS is specifically designed to represent a neutral third party in conflict resolution, the violation of this principle could be extremely detrimental to all parties.

Not only must an ICMS be neutral but it must also be perceived as being neutral by prospective users and partners. Some employees clearly perceive it as pro-employer and fear retaliation or reprisal. To assess the relative positioning of the ICMS, respondents were asked to rate the extent to which they agree (on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all agree, 3 somewhat agree and 5 is strongly agree) with a series of statements. As indicated below, respondents were most likely to agree that the services were respectful of collective agreements, statutory and workplace rights, and somewhat less likely to state that the services were neutral and flexible. Respondents were then cross-tabulated into two groups: those who indicated they were likely to use the service in the future and those who considered themselves unlikely. The results clearly demonstrate that the perceptions of the ICMS will have a major influence on the future demand for services.

Table 6: ICMS Principles
To what extent do you agree that the ICMS is: Likely to use services Unlikely to use services All Employees
Accessible 3.9 2.4 3.0
Neutral and impartial 4.2 2.3 3.2
Confidential 4.2 2.7 3.5
Flexible in services provided 4.0 2.5 3.1
Prohibitive of retaliation or reprisal 4.4 2.4 3.5
Respectful of collective agreements statutory and workplace rights 4.2 3.1 3.8

Some respondents also noted that the prominent, visible location of the ICMS Office diminished both their anonymity and the likelihood they would use the service.

Ease of access to service.

As identified by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2008) [19] , it is important to establish multiple points of contact in order to allow employees to readily identify and access a knowledgeable and appropriate individual who can be trusted for advice about the informal conflict management services available to them. Employees in the NCR have the greatest access to ICMS, but even members of the Department in the NCR find it difficult to easily access the services. Access is available by telephone and email, but receiving this type of service in such impersonal ways may not be efficient or effective. Several respondents and key stakeholders reported that responses to their inquiries were not received or came too late to be relevant and useful. Furthermore, the ICMS has not managed to visit the regions recently, although visits are planned for spring 2010.

High service quality

Conflicts are difficult for most people to manage. When people do attempt to address them, having knowledgeable staff with strong interpersonal skills is critical to resolving the conflict and to the overall success of the program. In addition, administrative staff who are well trained and have the knowledge to direct inquires to the appropriate individual or resources are also very important. Service quality is heightened when the services of experts in particular areas of conflict resolution, such as mediation, can be called upon.

Poor quality service can result in the escalation of conflict, parties’ dissatisfaction with resolutions, and a poor reputation for the ICMS services. The importance of this factor was confirmed by representatives from other federal government departments ICMS who identified that having staff with the right combination of skills and attributes is key to the functioning of a successful ICMS. In the Department, key informants expressed concern about the quality of service from the ICMS relating to a perceived lack of experience in conflict resolution among those in the Office. Respondents reported that they are somewhat satisfied with the ICMS services they have received. However, some expressed concerns about the process and the outcome of the service, suggesting some opportunities for improvement.

Some ways to improve service quality would be to support expansion of the staff with more practitioners and further development of staff capabilities as demand for services increases. A greater number of staff would allow responses to inquiries in a more timely fashion, and more attention paid to training would help bring people who are more specialized into the Office. When outside conflict resolution practitioners are used, they should also be adequately screened. Increased staffing will help address the access issue because of the greater availability of assistance.

A common issue in the development of any organizational conflict management system is whether to use conflict resolution practitioners who are either internal or external to the organization. An internal mediator is an employee of an organization who has a primary role in the organization unrelated to conflict management, but has been trained in mediation and possibly other conflict resolution strategies. When conflict situations arise, he/she may be called upon to provide assistance. An external mediator is not employed by an organization and is typically a conflict resolution professional that comes in when conflict situations arise. Some factors to take into account when deciding to use internal or external practitioners are the [20] :

  • Size of the organization: With small organizations, conflict situations may not arise frequently enough to warrant the use of a person devoted to the task. It may be more appropriate for a small organization to use external mediators that can be hired on an as-needed basis.
  • Skill of the mediator: With external conflict professionals, the level of expertise may be better assured because their skills are continually in use. In contrast, internal mediators may not regularly practice their skills, compromising their ability to provide useful services to employees in conflict when they are called upon. But an internal mediator will be much more knowledgeable about the organization, which may be advantageous.
  • Neutrality. To avoid perceived bias or conflict of interest, using an external conflict resolution facilitator is preferred. However, activities could be undertaken to increase the actual and perceived impartiality of an internal conflict resolution facilitator.
  • Cost. Depending on the frequency of conflict, continually hiring an external conflict professional may be too costly, and an internal resource may be more suitable.

As some members of the Department do not perceive the ICMS as being neutral, using practitioners who are also employees is likely not the preferred option and could exacerbate the issue. Using external conflict resolution professionals is the current approach, but many of the other federal departments have conflict resolution practitioners in their offices. What is not clear is whether these practitioners are indeed internal employees who have been trained to play that role, or professionals who work within their ICMS Offices.

There is an alternative which combines elements of an internal and external conflict resolution practitioner. This strategy would involve hiring a conflict resolution professional from outside of the organization to become the in-house mediator employed by the organization. However, this individual would have no other role than his work in the ICMS Office, and ideally he would be housed with other conflict resolution staff. With this type of arrangement, an organization can take advantage of an employee who has knowledge of organizational culture and rules but has specialized expertise in conflict resolution, and is far enough removed from the Department to maintain neutrality because of the absence of a role in other aspects of the organization. [21]

If the cost of an in-house mediator is prohibitive or does not make sense given the level of demand, there are other options as well. In the United States, almost every federal government department has its own Alternative Dispute Resolution program with its own practitioners or shares mediators though a Shared Neutrals Program.[22] , [23] In the Shared Neutrals Program, there is a group of conflict resolution practitioners who are federal employees who have been trained in conflict resolution and are shared among the departments. They are assigned to conflict situations outside their departments to maintain impartiality. This makes sense for departments that do not experience conflict situations with sufficient frequency to warrant a full-time person. The shared arrangement may allow for the expertise needed in a conflict resolution practitioner but also minimize the cost associated with it.

A strong training component

Informal conflict management aims in part to prevent the escalation of conflict. One way this can happen is if all staff is trained in interpersonal skills and methods of managing conflict at an early stage. With good training, people can feel more confident and may be more likely to address conflict as it occurs. This preventative approach also ensures that managers and employees assume a shared responsibility to contribute to a workplace culture that is collaborative in addressing conflict. The CPP Global Capital Report (2008) [24] and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2008)[25] both identify training as an ICMS best practice because the training of managers and employees helps them develop the skills to manage conflict, facilitates the quick resolution of issues in the workplace, and fosters individual responsibility to address conflict situations.

Despite the potential impact of training in supporting employees in managing conflict, the overall impact has been limited in the Department. Only five training sessions have occurred in the Department’s ICMS since its inception in 2006. Key stakeholders and respondents recommended that more resources be provided for training; a few respondents suggested making such training mandatory.

Highly integrated into the organization

When an ICMS is well integrated into an organization, it is in a much stronger position to change the philosophy and approach to conflict. Managing conflict effectively is important to all aspects of an organization, from human resources to financial management. At this time, there is some anecdotal evidence of the integration of the ICMS into the Department. In interviews, several representatives provided descriptions of situations in which conflicts had moved between the formal system and the informal system. This required coordination because of specific time limits surrounding the submission of grievances. The low profile of the program suggests that much more work is required to more fully integrate ICMS across the Department.



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